The “bumphead,” “buffalohead,” or “blockhead,” this little riverine fish from the Congo River basin has been around for quite awhile now, and I’ve been fond of it since the first time I saw it.
This fish is not, by any stretch of the imagination, colorful, or even ornately finned, and its distinctive head distortion is often not found attractive at all, but the combination of subtle grays and light brown colors, combined with some limited dorsal fin ray extensions, and, on mature, dominant males the cranial hump, all compliment each other and produce a pleasing, interesting little fish.
From Rapidly Moving Waters
The buffalo head comes from fairly rapidly moving waters, and, like many fish of these environments, is not a graceful swimmer, its fins having developed more toward holding it in place against the currents. It does exhibit a strong, well muscled caudal peduncle, again, useful in the quick flip of the tail to get the fish across the swiftly moving waters.
It prefers, in my experience, a substrate in the aquarium of mixed sand and fine gravel, however, I have utilized both of this substrates, with little or no preference exhibited by various specimens. What is important, however, is that each and every one of the community has at least one, more if possible, cave or shell that it can call “home” to preserve peace.
Water requirements are fairly standard for an African cichlid:
- high pH, at least 7.5;
- hardness of 350 to 400 ppm;
- fresh oxygenated water.
Temperature preferences seem to be in the 76-78F range, slightly higher when trying to induce breeding. Other than that, the fish is relatively easy to keep, the only problems I have ever encountered have been intraspecific quarreling and bickering among males, and, until recently, constant and often deadly aggression toward females. I may have happened, by accident, on a possible cure for the later problem, which I’ll explain a little later.
I had the opportunity to once more acquire and keep this favorite little fish of mine; I purchased, a bag of six two-inch specimens, and, giving them the above-listed conditions in a twenty-gallon, standard configuration tank, with no other inhabitants, settled them in for a few months of growing out and conditioning.
Feeding the Buffalo Head
Feedings can be four, sometimes even five times a day, consisting of two to three dry flake food feedings, at least one meal of a frozen meat such as adult brine shrimp or very carefully cleaned Beefheart. Most days, a feeding of newly hatched baby brine shrimp can be a nice addition.
With this regimen, an underpopulated tank, weekly twenty percent water changes, and a few months time, two of the fish doubled in size to over five inches and matured into obvious males, and the other four grew only to about three inches, and sex was still in question. (I have read, and suspected from experience, that only the dominant male(s) in an arrangement will exhibit extreme cranial “humping;” lesser males will not).
While these two largest fish did spar and bicker between each other, no aggression, or really, any attention at all was paid to the other four fish. These two never seemed to damage each other, but had a fairly constant contest of wills as to who would rule this “roost.” The only other physical change I had noticed, up to this point, was an occasional darkening of coloration of the very smallest fish in the group.
Soon after, that smallest fish, and the now largest and most aggressive of the two males decided to take up residence in the same pot, and actively took turns defending its perimeter. As I had a clear view into the inside of this little cave and did not see any indication of any eggs or fry, I really didn’t know what was going on there and haven’t figured it out yet. However, in a small, two-inch clay pot laying on its side at the very front glass of the tank, a now very darkened little female was seen to be guarding a clutch of about twenty extremely huge, nearly 1/8″, beige colored eggs. What was strange was that this location was not defended or prepared at all by the pair, and, for some reason, even with eggs and fry now hatched, held no interest at all for the other fish still in the tank. The female did not even guard the eggs much at all after the first day, simply traveling from her normal cave to check on them once in a while.
The eggs hatched in about seven days with still very little intervention by the parents, and I watched carefully for signs that the fry was seeking food and ready to be fed. As I had the brine shrimp hatcheries already “cooking”, as soon as the fry began “bumping” along the bottom of the clay pot, apparently starting to seek food, immediate feedings were initiated. The parents still showed little interest in the care of the brood, only a slight nervousness whenever another fish ventured in the direction of the brood. Of the 18-20 eggs, 10 survived (I assume that the rest did succumb to predation), and as they became fully self-mobile, migrated to the pot that the parents still for some reason were defending.
Convention Out the Window
I have always subscribed to the theory, with a notably aggressive male cichlid, that the commonly held principle that multiple females would divert his attention, and not allow a bully to overly tax anyone consort. With that theory in my pocket, I was initially somewhat worried about the well being of what I was beginning to become sure that was the sole female among the six fish. Well, I think one may want to throw convention out the window!
The males continue to bicker with each other, but primarily for the attention of the sole female, and, once dominance has been determined, either the male is so spent by the false battles or he truly is somehow transformed into a gentleman, because this lone female has never, ever been mistreated, and, has exhibited that she can hold her own against the other males when defending the cave.
I don’t know if this is a fluke, but the possibility of this reversal of convention does, I believe, merit investigation with other specimens of this species, and probably even other related species, then on to possibly unrelated cichlids. It is just one of those quirks that I find extremely interesting.
Anyway, the new fry has grown well, and, once they have exhibited that they no longer needed or wanted parental protection, this pair spawned again, in the same remote site, and again about twenty eggs were laid. This time, even though the tank was now getting more crowded with the original six fish and ten sub-adults from the first mating, all eggs hatched and are maturing past the one-inch stage. The only changes that have been made to the tank conditions have been increased quantity of food at each feeding to supply the now larger population, and an increase in the frequency, but not the volume, of water changes.